Thursday, December 6, 2012


Are you curious how your board stacks up on the crucial roles and responsibilities of trusteeship?  A great way for trustees to find out, together, is to take a walk through Friends Council’s or NAIS’ Principles of Good Practice. 

Over the years I’ve noticed one particular principle that often raises eyebrows, good questions, and rich insights.  In the Friends Council version, it’s this one:

            The Relationship with the Head
The Board selects, nurtures, supports and evaluates the head.  It contracts with the head and sets the head’s compensation.

In follow-up discussions, trustees often voice a range of surprised reactions:
·      Support our head?  No, actually, she supports us!
·      We haven’t thought about this before.  Why is it important?
·      This is one of our board goals – but now we notice we don’t have a single specific action step for doing it.  Are we providing any real support at all?

Friday, November 2, 2012


Dear Readers,
From time to time we’ll enjoy the contribution of a guest blogger on the Trustee U page.  Today I’m delighted to present Debra Wilson, Legal Counsel at NAIS and featured speaker on our most recent Trustee U video podcast, entitled #1 Legal Issue for Schools: Student Safety.

In this blog, Debra Wilson highlights the importance of addressing student safety at the fiduciary level, as well as the need for maintaining our proper roles and responsibilities in the partnership between board and administration.  

Please feel free to add your thoughts and questions in the Comments section at the bottom of this page.

Debra Wilson, Legal Counsel at NAIS, writes:

It has been a little over a year since the facts of the Penn State sex abuse scandal broke. Since then, as often happens when a high profile case of this nature breaks, the news has been filled with more victims and institutions coming forward with facts and allegations about other instances of sexual abuse of minors. The independent school world has not been insulated from these troubling events. Sadly, there are almost no child related industries that have not been scarred by similar stories over time.

Many schools have been overwhelmed by even the idea that students in their care could be preyed on by the very people who should be taking the most care with our vulnerable charges. Many trustees are concerned, but they also don’t want to step too far over the line into school management territory. While the school leadership is the group to research and implement best practices and policies in this area, trustees have two important roles in the steps that schools need to take.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Last week a trustee at one of our schools voiced a familiar dissatisfaction, “Generative thinking.  I like the idea, but the whole thing’s too abstract.  What are some concrete ways to DO it?”

Want to hear my favorite recent example?

Last year at a PreK-8 school in our network, ideas were percolating for long range planning.  The school had acquired an adjacent property, though its current tenants wouldn’t vacate for many years.  That left time to consider what Pat Bassett calls “blue sky” options. 

How to do this well?  At a Governance Committee meeting, the chair mentioned that he’d just been reading Governance as Leadership (Chait, Ryan, and Taylor, 2005) and wanted to try out a suggestion from the book. “Let’s do something that brings lessons from our history

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Last night I met with a terrific board at one of our ADVIS schools. An important item on their list this year is setting up a process for coordinating goals and evaluation.

If your school doesn't already have a system in place, this is a great time to make it happen. Goals for the year should be prepared by:
  • Each board committee 
  • The board as a whole
  • Each trustee 
  • The head of school 
If you have a current strategic plan, this year's portion of the work will be captured in your goals, of course. If you don't have a plan right now, setting coordinated goals may be the best thing you can do